Excellence rarely just “happens.” Maybe it never happens by chance, but I’ll allow for the chance in some instances. Even in sports that have a level of randomness to them (i.e. there’s a ball involved that can bounce a certain way), we connect excellence to having a right mindset, good genetics, and well-practiced performance. We can’t control genetics, but we have absolute control over our mindset and practices. And sports regularly reminds us that those with ordinary genetics (e.g. height or strength) can win championships with good practice, coaching, and a championship mindset. Every two years, the Olympics feature stories of everyday citizens who have learned to excel and rise above to be the best in the world. 

Though excellence is clearly seen in sports, it’s less obvious in everyday life. Somehow we believe that things happen to us in our lives, work, relationships, and faith. Oh sure, we SAY we know about self-discipline and its role, but when it comes to excellence and success, we believe that it’s more like a lottery than about mindset. Or that it’s dependent on others. We think that successful people are just lucky (and some are) when in fact most people exhibit a mental tenacity and focus that plays a larger role. Or they’d made commitments in the workplace for excellence that then gets recognized by others. But the excellence came first. 

When I think of all of the successful people who I’ve had on my podcast (37 the Podcast), all of them made some commitment along the way that they point to as the primary factor. They engage in a practice and committed to a set of principles that guided them through the ups and downs along the way.

I once worked at one of the country’s largest youth ministry organizations. We regularly had people visit and spend a few days with us to observe and discover what contributed to our success. Without exception, as they visited and watched, each person would say, “We could never do that.” One of the contributors to our success was that we spent at least half of our work week with teenagers. Though this seems like an obvious thing for youth workers to be doing, it’s surprising how few leaders in youth ministry actually spend half of their work week with teenagers. They meet and plan and, well, I’m not sure what else they do. 

Now, before we point our fingers at something that may seem obvious in youth work, the principle is true for us as well: We are already engaged in patterns and practices that we need to break out of to achieve a better result.Even now, as a Dean at a college, I get out of my office for an hour each day and an evening each week to spend time with students outside of meetings. That “youth ministry” discipline, instilled in me 30 years ago, now contributes to my current success in another field. Excellence is not a simple “do more” approach, but rather looks more like a change of mindset, focus, and energy while pushing past limits that have held us back too long.

And sports consistently reminds of this.

The 4-minute mile stood as an insurmountable barrier until the 1950s when it was first broken. In 1964, a high schooler broke it as well. Now, it is regularly broken and the world record is (at the time of this writing) 17 seconds lower. What changed? Better runners? Maybe. Better nutrition and training? Certainly. Training and a championship mindset? You bet.

Likely there are things in your life that you’re doing now that you never thought you’d be capable of and, if you look back, you can see that your thinking about it changed as well. There are four truths about excellence that we need to be reminded of today. These truths apply to your work, your relationships, your faith, and your future. 

Excellence Starts in our Minds

We are what we think. Most of us act out what we take in. Garbage in = garbage out. If we are shaped by the people we spend time with and the books we read, then we’re equally shaped by the other practices we have. But to rise above and have a championship mindset like athletes do, it’s more than just thinking excellent thoughts, it’s reprogramming our attitudes to not settle for mediocre, but to recognize that the “I can’t’s” that we’re too comfortable to say are really “I won’t’s” in disguise.

Excellence is a Method

The struggle isn’t against luck; it’s about what we do day-in and day-out. If you want to be a writer, you write. If you want to grow spiritually, you spend time encountering God via spiritual disciplines. If you want to be in shape, you work out. You get the idea. Think of someone you know who’s accomplished something you admire (e.g. losing weight, getting a graduate degree). They made a commitment along the way to change what they do and they stuck with it. They adopted a right mindset and then their practice followed.

Too often we’re waiting for a feeling to get us started or we quit when “we don’t feel like it.” Feelings are not part of the road to excellence. They’re found at the peak of accomplishment. [Click to Tweet]

When you find an excellent mindset, you’ll find a disciplined practice. The two go hand-in-hand.

Excellence in Thinking is Required for Spiritual Growth

To say that the battle for our spiritual lives begins our minds may seem counter-intuitive to how we normally view spirituality as a chase of experience or something from the heart. Paul writes that we are transformed by the “renewing of our mind.” (Romans 12:1) When talking about his teaching ministry, he notes that the struggle is with people’s thinking (2 Cor. 4:3-4). Later he says that his ministry is to overcome “speculations” and helping take thoughts captive  (2 Cor. 10:3-5).

We blame too much on others, on luck, or even on God and Satan when in fact the issue may be our own thinking about self-imposed or imaginary limits.

Wherever you find “spiritual excellence,” you’ll find an excellent mindset. [Click to Tweet]

Mediocrity is Defeat in Disguise

This sounds dramatic to say, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it seem like for some that mediocrity may be good enough?

To help, let’s use analogies to explore this further. What would mediocrity in love get us? Do the significant people in your life want you to be just “ok” in loving them? No, love is all or it’s not love. What does mediocrity look like in a battle? In sports? In financial management? We don’t want mediocrity in those areas; We’d lose in every situation. It’s defeat. 

Our lack of commitment would reveal that we don’t care. We lose every time. In a battle or a sport, there is an opposition who wants to win more than us. I want to suggest that the same is true in life. If you can’t be beaten, then it’s easier to settle for a draw. And you lose every time because mediocrity now has you under control. (At some point, I’ll discuss this further. Reflect on this for a few days and let me know what you think about this.)

Our efforts to “fit in” or to gauge success against others’ lack of it levels us downward, toward mediocrity. [Click to Tweet]

True success focuses on goals that are independent of evaluation based on how others are performing. [Click to Tweet

Excellence Requires Creativity

I love this arena. It’s my sandbox. One of the first books I ever read on being creative is Roger von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head. I still use much of his material from this classic and feature it in a seminar I lead on sparking curiosity. In my consulting and coaching, I work with boards, leadership teams, and influencers to take creative steps in an ever-changing workplace. We all need outside voices to speak into our lives to help us see in fresh ways. But, creativity also requires taking a new step or two in our lives, or to head a new direction. That’s where it gets scary for most because our “natural” mindset is that what we’re already doing is good enough. Though it may be true for today, I’m telling you it is not true for your future. 

It may be good for your this weekend to spend 60-90 minutes and conduct a review of your personal goals for 2018 and see how you’re doing. I have two free tools that can help. I have a “Pail-Purpose-Path” resource guide that will lead you through a process to help you focus on what you should be focusing on in your work. My other resource is my 3×5 Goal-Getting Guide, a helpful planning tool for taking your purposes and putting goals to them so you can see monthly progress. Each of these resources helps you focus your mindset in productive and purposeful directions and then create disciplined steps to see a brighter future. 

If you or your organization or business feel stuck and need some clarity for the future, I’d be happy to discuss that with you. In the work I do with the Arbor Research Group and the Selking Performance Group, we help everyday people and large multi-national entities with a variety of solutions in areas like leadership, personal growth, transition, research, and more. Drop me a note and we will set up a time to talk on the phone about your situation. Let’s make 2018 your most “excellent” year yet!  

Photo by Seth Kane on Unsplash